Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial was a 3,600-square-foot temporary exhibition held at the Boston Public Library from April 7 through May 11, 2014, to mark the one year anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. As the centerpiece of an effort by 25 cultural institutions to provide programming for this important milestone, the exhibit presented a selection of items from the makeshift memorial that sprung up in Copley Square in the days and weeks following the bombing.
The project’s goals included creating a communal civic space for reflection; framing the objects from the makeshift memorial as symbols of Bostonians’ support for their city and for each other; and starting a conversation about how to might harness this emotion and support to make the city better. In this way, the exhibition could help visitors mourn and make meaning, express themselves, and feel they are participating in something greater than themselves.
The exhibition was organized into eleven themes, each one featuring a specific feeling or reaction that people tried to communicate at the memorial. Exhibition highlights included large-scale graphics providing context and mood; a “hope tree” interactive; and a platform with approximately 150 pairs of running shoes, the exhibition’s most-photographed element. Through the themes, the exhibition took visitors on an emotional journey that progressed from the initial shock and pain of the bombing to a more nuanced understanding of what happened, and finally, to a sense of hope.
During its five-week run, Dear Boston received 52,000 visitors. Peak attendance occurred during the 2014 Marathon weekend, when the city was flooded with runners and spectators. Even more rewarding than the crowded gallery was the reaction of visitors. They lingered. Some came back multiple times. They wrote powerful messages on the hope trees and in the comment book. They cried. The collective energy and emotional catharsis in the gallery were palpable to all who entered.